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7 tips for transitioning from in-house marketing to agency life

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Have you been working in an in-house marketing role and considering a switch to agency life?

Agencies are great because you can gain exposure to various types of businesses and learn to optimize against different marketing objectives. But they’re also fast-paced and come with significant differences relative to working in an in-house marketing role.   

One of the most significant differences between in-house marketing and agency life is that you may be responsible for several accounts at once and need to focus on time and attention management more than ever. 

Making the switch to agency life can be a little intimidating, especially if you’ve been working in-house or focused on one brand for a long time.

The following seven tips can help you hit the ground running so that your agency career is as awesome as you hope it will be.

1. Adhere to the 80/20 rule

One of the most important things in any agency is working quickly and efficiently. It’s helpful to timebox yourself and think about where the 80/20 rule applies. This is where I’ve seen people struggle the most during a transition from corporate life, especially on smaller client accounts where hours are limited.

For example, a client may have a 20-hour-per-month contract, and you have to deliver as much value as possible using those hours. Approach the problem this way – delivering several things at 80% will likely add more value to their business than going 100% on one thing.

For example, you could spend two hours researching keywords to target and get a lot of the information you need or spend five hours and come up with some additional words you may not work on for six months. Think of what else you could do with the extra three hours that might be more valuable than additional keyword research.

Another rabbit hole is doing competitive backlink research. Spend a couple of hours developing an initial target list, but be realistic about what you’ll use over the next few months.

It’s easy to keep digging and lose track of time when something doesn’t have a finite end (like keyword research or reviewing backlinks), so block an hour or two to work on it and then see how you feel about the results.

You’ll want to think about delivering value constantly and consistently. Remember that every day you hold back or delay sharing information is a day that clients can’t move forward in growing their businesses and achieving their goals, so don’t overthink things and aim for “perfect!”

2. Plan your schedule to create room for ad hoc work

Managing simultaneous clients can be daunting for people coming over from in-house marketing roles. I’d recommend blocking meetings out on your calendar with specific tasks assigned to each. It’s even better if you can book recurring meetings at the same time each week to build a rhythm.

For example, “Client A content briefs” every Monday at 2 p.m. or “Client B weekly report” on Wednesday at 3 p.m. 

If you can plan out 80% of your time, this should allow you to absorb ad hoc requests from your manager, colleagues, or clients without them getting in the way of completing your projects. 

Friday afternoon is a great time to plan out the following week so that you don’t stress about it over the weekend!

3. Get comfortable working with imperfect information

When you work in-house, it’s easy to put things off until you get all the information you need from your colleagues or your research.

However, you have to get comfortable working with imperfect information when you work for an agency. This might include not receiving information about audience demographics, a rough estimate of cost-per-lead targets, or historical performance data.

You will rarely get everything you need from a client. It’s essential to move forward and work around constraints. Waiting for all data will lead to burning through days and weeks on projects that generally already have tight timelines.

Think of your time as perishable inventory or like an unsold hotel room – once the day passes, it’s gone, and there’s no getting it back.


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4. Sync with your peers to get up to speed quickly

When you work for an agency, you should get comfortable with the fact that sometimes “and other duties as assigned” may be the biggest part of your job and that you might enter a project or take over a client mid-stream.

Usually, it’s faster to learn about a new industry or client by listening to what your peers have already figured out rather than trying to get up to speed on everything by yourself. 

Peers may be able to communicate enough background information in a one-hour call to get you started, where it would otherwise take you hours to dig through all of the original materials or old emails.

This is tougher if the person you’re taking over has already left. In that case, you may want to ask for a copy of an original kick-off document, dig through Slack, or review the past four or five weekly / monthly reports.

5. Respond quickly without dropping other priorities

Offering high-touch service doesn’t mean dropping everything or your existing commitments for ad hoc requests. Responding to an email, text, or Slack immediately can disrupt your workflow – unless it’s a true emergency (like a site outage, broken data feed or similar issue).

While clients (and colleagues) expect that you’ll communicate promptly, don’t confuse offering excellent service with doing the work immediately.

Schedule time to check your email and Slack (or similar) several times throughout the day, and get familiar with sending these types of responses:

  • “Got it! When do you need this by?”
  • “I can get it to you by the 15th – will that work?”
  • “Sure thing. I’m tied up this week but can start on that on Tuesday. Is that okay with you?”
  • “Confirming I got your email. Unfortunately, we can’t commit to getting this done in the time frame you need. We’ll do our best but can definitely get it to you by Friday. Please let me know if that will work for you.”

You can preserve your relationships by learning to set realistic timeframes and sticking with your other commitments. Juggling conflicting priorities is tough – make sure you don’t confuse “important” with “urgent.”

If you have multiple emails from clients with different requests, you may want to consolidate the answers into a single email. Consolidating different threads should help reduce the number of responses you get back!

6. Control the conversation by planning

A surefire way to make an impression with your colleagues and clients is to plan ahead. As an in-house marketer, you were likely either just tackling whatever felt most important, getting ready for seasonal spikes, or doing analysis.

Clients will look to you to push them forward in their marketing – that’s why they’ve hired an agency!

Here are a couple of planning opportunities: 

  • Early in the month, or ahead of it: Ask clients if there are any important product launches, meetings, or conversations that they’ll need help with (i.e., board meeting) so you can plan accordingly
  • Build 30-, 60- and 90-day plans and get alignment with clients on tests, projects and initiatives. Plan for most likely scenarios. You can always pull things forward, but it looks worse to push things out.

This also works really well with organizing your schedule – once you have an approved 30-, 60- or 90-day plan, you can block time out on your calendar to get the work done on time.

Plans inspire confidence and let clients know you’re thinking ahead, not just reacting to their requests. 

7. Learn to track your time

This is one of the most challenging things for people transitioning into agencies from in-house roles, but it’s important. Time tracking helps agency leaders plan for capacity and staffing, understand client profitability, and bill clients accurately.

I’ve found it easiest to track in real-time, leaving a browser tab with the time tracking tool (e.g., Harvest, Toggl) open next to my email so it’s always visible. But, as I suggested earlier, you can also track your time at the end of the day or week if you block projects out of your calendar.

Agencies also keep an eye on utilization and billable time, so keeping up with time tracking will help ensure you get “credit” for your hard work!


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land. Staff authors are listed here.


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About The Author

Antonella Pisani is CEO and founder at Eyeful Media, where she leads a team of passionate & talented marketers. Over the course of her career, she’s held senior digital marketing & eCommerce leadership positions with Fossil, JCPenney, Guitar Center, and Proflowers but began her career as a web designer in 1996. Antonella is based in Dallas, and her trusty sidekick, Riley (a rescue pup who also serves as the company’s Chief Security Officer), is often sleeping by her desk. She’s been to 37 countries and loves to travel any chance she gets.


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